‘BY JOVE!!! CRIKEY!!!
What a godsent Xmas box for the world!’
Dancing, music, laughter and love greeted the end of World War I, and Australian servicemen and nurses couldn’t wait to break the news in letters and diaries: “We’re coming home.“Here, we present four of these missives which capture the shock, relief and raw emotion of war’s end
Another week has gone by, wonderful to relate, tho’ it is hard to believe in a way; things have been pretty much as usual during the week … today is . dull, cold wind and looks like snow to come. Last night for 24 hours I had the doubtful honour of being one of the guard at the prisoners of war cage and here I am still, writing in the guard room, one the Fritz dug out, where his officers on the ammunition dump he used to have here, used to reside. It is a tunnel well underground, walled with elephant iron (a kind of glorified corrugated stuff, very heavy), with a duckboard floor, five wire bunks, a stove … It was perishing cold on guard, six hours out of the night portion, but it’s not as bad now it’s daylight …
By JOVE!!! Crikey!!! What shall I say? We’ve just had a breathless bombardier … rush into the dugout, fall over the bed at the end and shout out some glorious news – can’t repeat it, as it’s strictly against orders to mention the subject … but you first note the date! Only hope this is dinkum as he swears it is! What a godsent Xmas box for the world! … Funny how calmly they all take it though, considering the tremendous thing it is …
Well I must cease for lack of news for the old reason – can’t tell you of it and also the candle’s guttering; must wait till our rations come, with more light. I souvenired a splendid Jaeger wool cap, one that they issue to the Royal Horse artillery. I’m going to bring it home with me, it’s a splendid thing – thick, soft fleece, khaki in colour, you can pull it down like a balaclava.
Hush – I have also a beautiful Fritz souvenired shooter too – hope I can get it home.
Much love – please excuse the untidiness
Your loving son Keith
ON the 11th of November, 1918, Gunner Keith Shadforth Dowling of Neutral Bay, aged 29, was cold and miserable, guarding prisoners of war in an underground tunnel and writing to his mother by the light of a guttering candle. He interrupted his own letter when a breathless messenger burst into the tunnel with news of peace. Dowling, who had enlisted in 1917, served in the Field Artillery Brigade as a gunner and was assigned to the 107th Australian Howitzer Battery, serving along the Western Front. He served in WWII in a garrison battalion in Australia and died in 1971.
Letter from Beaumont, Belgium,14 March 1919
Dear Herbert and Jess I have just spent 6 of the happiest days in my life in Brussels and Antwerp and it really breaks my heart to have to come back here, in this forsaken filthy town of Beaumont …
Talk about a magnificent city, Brussels beats all I have seen. As soon as I arrived there I seemed to be possessed with an unparalleled feeling of happiness, which I never experienced before in my life. It seems to be in the air along the Boulevardes in the cafes. Everyone so happy and always laughing. You feel inclined to go back without leave. And beautiful girls, not patched up, but with natural beauty. In the cafes it is simply one roar all night of music and clinking of wineglasses. Girls smiling and cigarettes and also dancing up and down between the tables. The Australian there is out on his own high above the Americans, Pommies, Canadians and New Zealanders. I am not pulling your leg.
But every Aussie, you see, whether ugly, good-looking, tall or small has either one or two girls linked on his arm. I visited a Belgian family whose father was a judge in the Belgian Congo and they could not have treated King George better than they did me. The Australians have a magnificent name as fighters in Brussels.
I do not like to say it but the English soldiers have a very poor name in Brussels as regards fighting qualities. The wife of the Belgian judge told me that the English soldiers failed in a lot of battles. I don’t want you to say much about it to anyone, but I fell in love with Claire, the daughter, a jolly, always merry, beautiful girl and we spent some pleasant hours together. She can speak English a little and I was teaching her for a while. She is a high-class sort of girl and gave me her photo with some writing on the back.
Well Herbert and Jess I will now close. Give my love to little Thora and hope you are both well.
Your loving brother Norman
NORMAN Charles Brierley, born in Annandale, was a 2121 year-old Queensland farmer when he left for war in 1917, and wrote frequently to brother Herbert and sister-inlaw Jess, signing off his letters with a kiss for their young daughter Thora. He served in the 31st Battalion in France and wrote earlier in the war: “I often long for sunny Australia bright & free from curses of war. It is the best & cleanest place I have been in & no one is getting me out of it after the war,” he wrote earlier in the conflict. On Armistice Day he was in the Somme Valley, near Amiens, in France’s north.
JUBILATION: Brisbane residents mark the end of World War I with a victory parade along Queen Street on 23 November, 1918; and women and children celebrate in Townsville (right).